“A Brief Airline Encounter”
by Nicolas Doucet
“We have a new one, you will love it !” says the young and energetic flight attendant as I am making myself comfortable on my aisle seat. She refers to those airline videos where security instructions are provided in a humoristic way: the latest trend with airlines. Theirs, she promises, sets a new standard.« Awesome, we are starting on the right premise!“ I am fit, hydrated, rested, poised for this long-haul flight to Amsterdam. Books and magazines galore, tablet, snacks, inflatable pillow: I am all set.
I was among the first ones to board. While checking the duty-free catalogue, I keep an eye on the incoming passengers. Hoping that no one will sit next to me, or, in case somebody does, that it will be Kim Kardashian or Beyoncé.
By now, most of the passengers have boarded and that seat on my left is still free. Looking good.
“We are just waiting for two more passengers, in transit from another plane“ says the captain, with the type of gravelly, almost coppery voice that I find quite reassuring and suitable, coming from an experienced captain. „They have landed and are now being escorted to our plane. We will be able to take off within 10 minutes“.
Back to my magazine. I am sharing my situation in real-time with my social media friends by sending a couple of enthusiastic smileys and related icons, including a long chair and a bottle of Champagne.
There they come, the two final passengers. One lady sits a few rows before me. The other one is a middle-aged man, whom I would not qualify him as overweighed, but simply as VERY big. A former football player? Or a boxer? A sumo wrestler, borderline. He is making his way through the rows, a slight frown on his face reflecting the concentration required by the progression of his body and bags up the cabin while looking for his seat number. Ha, now I can see that he is relaxing. He must have located his seat.
Ho, but guess what? His seat is the one on my left.
My grinning smiley has turned into a rictus. My social friends already know.
“How are you doing? I am sorry, I will have to squeeze myself in“. Then, anticipating a question which I was not going to pose, but was indeed deliberating internally – my God, why is he sweating?: „They had us run with our stuff all the way fromterminal two to terminal three to catch this flight. Man, I wish I would have had some time to relax before embarking again! I am thirsty, hungry, and sleepy. Did they already distribute the headsets? My name is Dylan, nice to meet you“.
I have lost the elbow space battle before it even started. I am no match: his arms are like my legs. Even if he tried to contort himself, he could not contain his flesh, which is overflowing beyond the theoretical divide of our two seats. I have no solution but to lean to the right, a part of my upper body into the corridor, getting bumped every minute by an attendant or a passenger.
Am I going to spend the next twelve hours in this position?
Dylan sneezes, apologizes courteously and blames the air conditioning. I, however, deliberately set my air nozzle to the maximum, in an attempt to stem the noxious ambient air.
I manage to read a few chapters of my Agatha Christie novel. It is full of respectable ladies and gentlemen, who kill one another gingerly with elegant tools or utensils such as an ice pick, a knitting needle, a fireplace poker or a thimble filled with cyanide. But Hercule Poirot inexorably detects, anticipates, reconstitutes, identifies, and confronts – in the last chapter, naturellement! Hercule, the relentless detective, never seems surprised by the malevolent psyche of the human beings he happens to be surrounded with. Is he also himself, potentially, a murderer ? Has Agatha ever thought of such a denouement?
My mind is slowing down. If it were not for the lack of comfort, I would already be asleep. Dinners have been served, trays have been cleared. I got up to stretch my legs twice and Dylan, three times. Using my individual overhead light, I go again through the airline magazines, looking at images rather than at text, allowing my mind to drift from image to thought to woolgathering and hopefully to a proper nap. An article about witchcraft reminds me of the scary fairy tales which my grand-mother used to read to me. My favorite ones were populated with dragoons that a valiant knight would finally exterminate, not by cutting their heads (which always grew back), but by finding a unique weak spot in the monster’s anatomy (usually near the throat, which is a strange location for an Achilles‘ heel), in which they would somehow thrust a spear or halberd.
It is now 8 pm departure time, 5 am at destination, we are cruising at 35.456 feet and our ground speed is 920 km/h, with a 115 km/h adverse wind.
Dylan is snoring. His wrinkled shirt is not well tucked in, providing a glimpse of his navel, and of its bulging surroundings.
Most passengers have their eye mask and neck pillow on, and sleep. A few are still reading or watching movies. The person to my right, on the row before me, has been watching “quantum solace” in a loop for at least five hours.
My head finally nosedives.
When I wake up from an agitated dream, it is only 6 am. I drink some water and try to recollect my thoughts.
I look into my travel purse where I unearth a pen and a paper clip. I open the pen, remove the ball point, unfold the paper clip and insert it into the pen‘s orifice. Dylan has not moved. He cannot move, because movement demands space, and his space is fully occupied! I silently mutter a few words to convey my regrets and also my appreciation of him having been such a decent, polite and even apologetic neighbor, when he was asking me to get up to let him go to the restroom. With my right hand, I hold the pen-cum-clip firmly, target Dylan’s navel and thrust it deeply. I hear air oozing out slowly first, then go out more rapidly, like from an air mattress. I push on the stomach to accelerate the movement. Basic fluid mechanics. I am slowly regaining elbow space and keep on pressing gently what is left of the head, the breast, the shoulders.
After fifteen minutes, it is all gone. I collect the skin remnants, fold them neatly, and put them into his travel purse.
I can now recline comfortably. My private cockpit indicates that it is 6:15 am, local time, and that we are cruising at 35.802 feet. I expect a good bout of sleep before breakfast. I wonder whether airline companies develop humoristic videos on how to handle deflated rubber skin balloons.